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Diane Abbott on random stop and search: Crime is rising – more police, not heavier policing, needed

PUBLISHED: 10:00 27 October 2018

Diane Abbott MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health, speaks during the third day of the Labour Party conference in Liverpool. Picture date: Tuesday September 27, 2016. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/ EMPICS Entertainment.

Diane Abbott MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health, speaks during the third day of the Labour Party conference in Liverpool. Picture date: Tuesday September 27, 2016. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/ EMPICS Entertainment.

Matt Crossick/Empics Entertainment

This government is in danger of bringing back one of the worst abuses of police powers, with the use of random stop and search.

One of my earliest campaigns in the 1980s was challenging the suspected persons (sus laws), and current policy looks set to repeat this mistake. African-Caribbean people are disproportionately stopped.

This is despite the Home Office’s own research showing that it is counter-productive.

It can poison relations between the community and police and it can be used to harass black communities, especially young black men. A recent report published by Stop Watch states that black people are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched.

The report also found that “half of all stop searches in 2010/11 were targeted at drugs, rising to almost two-thirds by 2016/17”.

However, the research also showed that “the ‘find’ rate for drugs is lower for black than white people, suggesting that such searches are carried out on the basis of weaker ‘grounds’ for black people”.

In Hackney the primary reason for police stops is a suspicion of carrying drugs.

Of course the police need to be given the confidence to do their job effectively, in particular at a time when forces are under pressure from cuts to funding and resources.

However, Conservative austerity policies are not achieving results. They are cutting much needed resources and increased use of a blunt instrument like stop and search is unhelpful.

In the last ten years, this Tory government has overseen a huge cut to police numbers resulting in police forces having to do much, much more with much less.

Random stop and search is heavy on police time, often with little result. Conviction rates are low and the method is not an effective way of catching the most serious criminals.

Evidenced based stop and search can be important in fighting crime and of course can be useful.

Earlier this year the cross party Youth Crime Commission report found: “There is a damaging lack of trust between the police and some communities. This has become a serious barrier to change, including via a ‘wall of silence’ when crimes are committed and communities do not share information with the police. Any future violence reduction strategy will have to place a premium on establishing trust and mutual respect.”

This is not helpful for police-community relations. We have policing by consent in this country and random stop and search undermines that.

The solution must be to work with communities rather than risk alienating them using these powers. Labour’s last manifesto committed to increase police numbers by ten thousand officers, overwhelmingly to rebuild community policing.

We must not ignore all our previous experience in this area. More police, better policing, better community relations are needed in the fight against crime.

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